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Archive for the ‘SE Asia 10-12’ Category

Apr
18

Angkor Wat and the Holy Romans

Posted by Mei on April 18, 2012 Istanbul and Angor Wat made feel a little like stunned mullets. Australia’s history is so short. It was hard to imagine how much work was required to build these cities. Istanbul has two huge footprints on the continents of Europe and Asia. It really feels quite Asian too. For some reason Kevin has been targeted as the person most likely to buy a carpet. He must fit the demographic. So everywhere we go the touts say, “ Where are you from?” then when they figure Aussie we get “Aussie Aussie Aussie …….”. It is freaking tedious. I get; “ you don’t look Aussie…?” We flew almost directly from Siem Reap Cambodia to Istanbul. Angkor Wat was magnificent at dawn and sunset. We loved the ruins and started to get a glimpse of how the Angkor royalty might have once lived. We walk or scramble up the stone ruins that are 1000 years old. What remains is only the stone bocks and stone carvings. Many of the Buddhas have been decapitated by looters. The Buddha heads fetch astonishing prices in the antiquities market, (Bastards). It would be interesting if we could see a diorama of what the interiors might have been decorated with. Apparently there were frescos and teak ceilings. The Ta Phrom was the wildest temple we visited and had giant tree roots growing through the ruins. Jan and Dave told us that Beng Meleia was wilder and hardly restored at all but as usual we ran out of time and puff. We saw pictures of Preah Vihear Temple that was the cause of border unrest between Cambodia and Thailand (2010), and no wonder, the temple is on a very high escarpment and is really quite big.  Looks fantastic. Siem Reap is full of scams, lies and misinformation. Mothers come up to you with babies and a plea for milk. Jen decided to go to the shop and get some and was horrified that the tin cost 44 USD. She knew it was a scam. We were besieged by kids under 6 coming with sad little faces trying to sell us postcards, bangles and anything. The Cambodians have an add campaign, “adults work, children learn”, i.e. keep the kids in school, don’t give them a cent. These kids were so visible and front and centre that I feared for them. Our guide told us that downside of tourism was HIV and the highest group were the tuk tuk drivers. The Cambodians use “Where do you come from?” but thankfully no “Aussie Aussie Aussie …….”. They were perplexed by me. Also noticed they rarely targeted me for sales. Apparently the Chinese groups were a dead loss for the hawkers. Scungie crowd. We were approached by people selling books on Angkor Wat and the Pol Pot era. The Tuk Tuk drivers we met in the tourist areas were happy to lie about a place you nominated to eat, and direct you to places where they got free lunches. Jen and Cam wanted to get an express bus out and were assured that the buses were express. But when they did the journey the bus stopped everywhere. In Istanbul we noticed wandering hawkers selling books and shoe shines. We sat down on a park bench and immediately a shoe shine guy came by. Kevin shoe had split from the leather and the guy took the shoe and suddenly ran off with it. He gestured that we wait in sign language. He came back with glue and proceeded to glue the bits together. Whilst sitting there his brother turned up and picked my shoe up (foot attached) and plunked it on his shoe shine box. I tried to pull my foot back but he grabbed it tight. Kevin’s shoe shine man hissed at his brother I think to tell him to go away but he then proceeded to clean my runners. The glue didn’t take to the leather and rubber. My shoes was marginally cleaner and we were 12 Turksih Lira (about 6 USD) behind. We decided to keep moving. Maybe right out of the tourist area. The Grand Bazaar is almost a small suburb with its lanes covered with a vaulted roof. It is the original mall concept but the execution is much more organic and less sterile. The lanes are not straight or flat. The vaulted roof allows natural lighting in and is high enough to keep it feeling spacious. Later as we were walking near the Grand Bazaar, a shoe shine man dropped his brush and kept walking in front of us, Kevin informed him and he pledged his undying gratitude and insisted on cleaning Kevin’s shoes. Upon hearing that Kevin practically grabbed my hand and jogged away. A couple of days later we noticed another shoe shiner drop a brush, but this time we kept walking very fast up towards him and pointed at his brush and before he could look back at us we were gone. In the Grand Bazaar we came across a shop sign that promised they would not hassle us in that shop. Did that mean they would totally ignore us like in Australia? What bliss. You can’t really stop and examine the items, because they are all over you like flies, and they don’t let you look at what you want to see, they make you look at what they want to sell you. In the Grand Bazaar we met a guy slouching on a stack of carpets, he used the unusual line, ”Can I help you spend some money, I have a lot of beautiful junk you might want to buy.” He got a laugh but no sale. We went through the Spice Bazaar and it was redolent with many spices. The people there were predominantly tourists. Do tourists buy spices? Not really.. maybe a bag of pistachios. The locals don’t seem to be there buying up for their kitchen, they can buy it in their local markets near where they live. On Saturday we noticed a huge surge in locals going to the spice market. Outside they sell birds, rabbits, kittens etc. I noticed little girl gripping tightly a paper bag that chirped, she looked trilled. We spent seven days in Istanbul and stayed in the old town called Sultanamet. It is walking distance to the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, innumerable mosques. We caught a ferry to the Asian side and had a look around. There were very few tourists and it was a normal working class neighbourhood. The fresh food markets looked very clean and inviting. I am normally not a fan of fish markets but this one was not far from the one in southland. We visited the archaeological museum and discovered that Troy really existed, and it is in Turkey. The original Troy is 3000 BC. It was in this museum that we discovered the Lycians, who on earth were they? Apparently democracy was their initiative centuries before the Greeks. We went to the Hagia Sofia, it was built in 537AD when Constantinople was the lead city of the Holy Roman Empire. it is a magnificent domed building. It had lots of marble, and the ceiling were decorated with tiny mosaic tiles by a few scripture stories. The church was subsumed by the Ottoman empire and grew four minarets and a pulpit for the mullah. Have a look here http://www.3dmekanlar.com/en/hagia-sophia.html. We visited the Topkapi Palace, http://www.3dmekanlar.com/en/topkapi-palace.html it was used from for 400 years from 16 century. It’s the palace you think of when you imagine the Arabian nights. Mosaics, splendor and big black eunuchs. On the other hand the Dolmabahce Palace (http://www.3dmekanlar.com/en/dolmabahce-palace.html) was built to impress the holy hip western Europeans, yes and in the style favored by wealthy dictators of any color, creed or religion; Louis the 14th interiors. Built in the 19th century when the Ottoman star was waning. Apparently they missed out on the industrial revolution, and instead became the buyers of these cheap goods, which in turn destroyed the local market. The Ottoman’s traditional revenue sources were drying up and they didn’t have a clue how to fix the problem. Yep innovate or die. The Blue Mosque, http://www.3dmekanlar.com/en/blue-mosque.html was OK, and is still being used as a mosque. It was free to visit but I was annoyed at the guy out the front barking out “donate” like an order.  He was obviously unfamiliar with the altruism concept. We visited the Kariye Muzesi http://www.3dmekanlar.com/en/kariye-museum.html the mosaics here are really fantastic. Bring all your knowledge about the scripture stories and you will be able to figure what the scenes are about. No guide required. It was wonderful not to visit a shopping mall (something yachties usually get excited about.) We are now in Marmaris waiting, waiting for Whisper to arrive. Marmaris is surrounded by mountains. The town is on a plain and there are few views of the water. The beach looks like garden soil, and we heard that thousands of tonnes of white sand is trucked in and spread on the beach for those lounge lizard tourists. The water looked a murky dark brown. We caught up with the other yachties living at yat marin. The ones who arrived on the previous ship about 6 weeks ago. The marina costs 230 E per month. Lunch in the staff canteen 3 AUD per person. They were really happy and snug and didn’t look like leaving any time soon. Since we’ve been land travelling for almost four weeks the whole marina lifestyle started to look quite claustrophobic. Yat Marin has a supermarket, chandeliers and workshops. It is about half an hour outside of Marmaris. The city is 1.5 AUD by Dolmus (twice the size of a bemo, 15 seater with some standing room). Interestingly Dolma is a verbal noun of the Turkishverb dolmak, 'to be stuffed', and means 'stuffed thing'. Usually used in the food context but now a metaphor for the “human in a sardine can”. We visited Tlos, a Lycian ruin. We were dropped off at the town of Tlos and the Dolmus driver pointed up a road and showed 4 fingers. We guessed 4km to the ruin. We started to walk and a man on a scooter asked if we wanted a lift. We hopped on and were extremely happy we did when we began to climb up a very steep winding road for 4 km. It was about 20 degrees and very comfortable. No wind blue sky, my favourite weather. Tlos was quite a big ruin and was quite interesting. The setting was on an escarpment surrounded with snow clad mountains. The escarpment overlooked a big valley that was entirely farmland. They were growing olive trees, hothouses with tomatoes, vegetables. There was a strong smell of cows and goats. All very earthy. Spring flowers were the lovely poppies red and orange. The ruin had a lovely huge amphitheatre. But it was fenced off. The Lycian tombs were on the cliff edge and were interesting to scramble around. The area had the Lycians, Greeks and Romans plant their mark. Now only the farmers have the land. I have noticed something that detracts from every house. It is clear what the turks cannot do without. It is the satellite TV dish and the large solar hot water collector on the roof. Also like Malaysia the ubiquitous split system air conditioner adorns every hotel room exterior and some houses. The price of petrol or diesel is 2.22 AUD/litre. So power must cost a heap. The food here is curiously very limited. But I heard they have 200 ways to prepare eggplant, it is really bliss Suzanne.
  • There are the kebabs which tend to be minced meat or chicken on skewers with salad, and rice.
  • The doner which are slices of meat or chicken on a skewer rotating vertically with radiator surrounds. This comes with salad in Turkish bread, flatbread wrap, baguette or without bread.
  • The casseroles, chicken with potato; chicken goulash; meatballs with potato; vege with eggplant, onions, capsicum and tomato; eggplant with minced meat, minced meat with egg; all served with rice and or bread.
  • The deserts are the usual bakclava etc. But there are these curious puddings, very nice and simple rice pudding, milk, vanilla and sugar with sprinkling of cinnamon. Yum.
It looks like our current plan is to scoot up as far north on the Turkish coast into the Aegean sea, if we have enough time into the Black sea then come down south into the Greek islands then back to Turkey as we sail down south towards the Red Sea. Very busy 6-8 months.
Nov
22

Thailand Chaing Mai, Bangkok and Phuket

Posted by Mei on November 22, 2011

Elephants in Chiang Mai

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA In Thailand there are elephant villages. We went to one outside Chiang Mai. We were wizzed past a souvenir shop that had everything pachyderm; cushions, rugs, toys, vases, boxes, etc. damn! We climbed up a structure to board the elephant. The elephant had a wooden seating rack strapped on his back. The seat was padded and had a safety bar. Along the way to board the elephant we were asked if we wanted to buy some bananas and sugar cane for $1 AUD. Yes why not. Our Mahout sat on the elephant’s neck with his legs behind it’s big floppy ears. He seemed to tap his feet gently to direct the elephant. Some Mahouts sit more nonchalantly on the top of the elephants head with their legs crossed dangling on the elephant’s forehead. Oddly there was an indentation on the elephant’s head that look just like it was designed for sitting. We lumbered out of the elephant camp.We observed the villagers working hard in the fields, cutting hay for the elephants. Many fields were cultivated with sugar cane, bananas and small patches of rice. I read somewhere that elephant requires 1-2 tonnes of foods a day. As we ambled along I began to ponder when we should feed our elephant; when he decided for us by stopping on the side of the road. He swung his trunk back and the Mahout turned around and pointed at the sugar cane. We handed it to the nose and soon heard the crunching. Our bundle of 10 sticks quickly disappeared. It became apparent that the elephant could eat and walk at the same time. I thought of feeding the bananas one at the time but the nose took the entire bunch. We ambled up a road and spotted a roadside stand clearly aimed at the intrepid elephant riders. The stand was precariously perched on stilts to bring the stall to the level of the elephant riders. These stalls did not sell the usual tourist stuff, drinks, sunscreen and junky souvenirs. It must have been a happy day when the villagers discovered that the tourist would be more than glad to pay cold hard cash to feed their beasts. Cheekily these hawkers charged 75 cents for a larger bunch of sugar cane. I couldn’t let my elephant starve so we had to buy some more food. These elephant villagers traditionally work in the forest as the loggers, the elephants deftly pulling the logs to trucks or rivers. Most of the forest does not exist anymore. The Mahout and elephants have lost their livelihoods as loggers. A young elephant is bonded to a Mahout (age 12). The elephant is just not for Christmas, it is for 50 years. Luckily tourism may yet save the elephant culture. It must have astonished the Mahout villagers that the tourist would pay serious money to learn to become a Mahout. This involves scrubbing, feeding, a lot of shovelling and riding. These Mahout courses are in huge demand and there are waiting lists. It has spawned a new industry of providing accommodation and restaurants for these Mahout wannabees. Tourism in Thailand is very organic. They don’t create theme parks, they use what they have and it is impressive.

Tigers in Chiang Mai

Asian tigers have a little white spot behind their ears. I’m not an avid animal toucher. It would never occur to me to pet a strange dog. The only cats and dogs I’m comfortable with are my own. But there we were inside a cage with six tiger cubs. They were about three months old, and their fur was softer then a dog’s, but not as silky as a cat’s. They are incredibly cute and curious. They obviously have not reached the “oh hum here’s another tourist, God another boring day” attitude the bigger tigers reach. kevin-and-tiger-cub For me it was just about the most interesting experience in Thailand. I had naturally assumed that tiger touching was sudden death. But the taxi driver’s up-sell had us both entranced. It was just fascinating being in the same space. What intrigued me was that the tiger cubs were better behaved than Baloo; a cat we used to have. Inside a cage with six tiger cubs

Chiang Rai

We had imagined this to be a small town with wooden houses but discovered Chiang Rai is a concrete town of 1 million. We did visit an akha village. The akha are hill tribe folk. In one of the photos on the wall of the village souvenir stall appeared to have Hillary Clinton surrounded by a group of Akha women dressed in traditional costume. white-temple-panoThe most fascinating time we had at Chiang Rai was at the White Temple. This place is iconic.

Road Trip from Bangkok to Phuket

We joined Margie and Hank in Bangkok. Hank and Margie are cycling down to Phuket in a March next year. The idea was to drive to Phuket in 200km hops for a bicycle reconnaissance tour. Hank wanted to check out the accommodation, scenery and get a sense whether the bike tour he planned with google earth was going to be fun and interesting. For Kevin and I; we were doing it because we wanted to see Margie and Hank. It was also an opportunity to see Chiang Mai and Bangkok. We had been aware there were floods in Thailand and I felt quite frustrated not being able to get accurate flood information. Chiang Mai was dry and dusty. The television was full of flood news in Thai. The English newspapers in Thailand were OK but did not show any current flood status maps. It was not until I stumbled on a good website that we were reassured Bangkok CBD and the road south was dry. Hank was smarter and phoned the hotel in Bangkok. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we flew into Bangkok we got stuck in a holding pattern. The extent of the floods was quite horrific. Some of these areas had been underwater for weeks. Bangkok was in pain. The ride into the CBD on the train was interesting; the canals were full, and the roads dry. We were staying at the Lebua at State Tower in the CBD. We had a walk around the hotel neighborhood and couldn’t help noticing the bricked/rendered walls up to 1.4m high in front of the shop windows (some were being bricked up as we watched). The shop keepers had been assured that the CBD would remain dry (source: newspapers) they clearly thought the government had lost control. Pictures and cartoons showed just what the Thais thought of the situation. They were damned unhappy with the irrigation authority that held back the water when it should have been released, the prime minister’s lack of management ability and the Bangkok’s mayor’s maintenance inability to keep the canals deep and free flowing; and the government’s sacrifice of their factories, farmland and homes for a bunch of buildings in the CBD. I asked a Thai woman if she was angry with the people who we mismanaging the situation, her answer was very Thai. “I am one person who can do nothing. I am not angry, just sad for all the people caught up in the floods.” In reference to the mismanagement and corruption she said grimly, “God will punish them.” In Bangkok we visited the Jim Thompson house (built in the 50s). It was next to a very full river and interestingly enough on stilts. The threat of flooding has been ever present. It was an interesting tour with many old thai furnishings and interiors, and architecture. A treat. We had drinks with Hank and Margie and their friends Keith and Joanne at an Irish pub. It was great to see Hank and Margie again. The next day we hit the road after an enormous breakfast. Even Kevin reached his limit. Asian buffet breakfasts are pretty amazing because they also do Thai, Chinese food along with the usual egg flip bar, cereal, yes bircher too, patisseries, charcuterie and fruit. The pizza wood fired oven doubled as a toaster. The roads were clear of water as we left. But feeling a little like Indiana Jones we were chased down by a tongue of water that swamped the road behind us. We used a roadmap and the Nokia Thai street maps that we had specially loaded into the phone. It is this feature alone that keeps us wedded to Nokia as we do not have to be online to use them. We found a town near Phetchaburi. We stopped at a cafe and we could immediately tell that this town was not used to foreigners the only menu was entirely in Thai. I was really annoyed I didn't invest in the Thai phrase book I had seen in Chiang Mai. We ended up pointing at the Pepsi and ice. When I was a kid living in Singapore I rarely drank any water when I was out. Keeping hydrated all the time in this heat is important, or so we believe now. The cost at least to us women is high. This back yarder had a different type of squat system (tiny and less functional), and lack of dexterity resulted in having to wash legs and shoes under running water. UGH. We found the temple in Cha-am that was built in the time of Ankor wat. It was built of red rock that looked like impacted coral. Margie loved the cats around the wats. They were beautiful Siamese cats. hank-mei-margieThe Casuarina Hotel (Puek Tian) Hank found had a lovely pool, which we had all to ourselves. The rooms were nice. The dining room had no-one there except us. There were other guests. Hmmm… I really did wonder about the food quality, even more so when they didn't have many items on the menu. Hank suggested we leave and we found an amazing little restaurant that had very nice food albeit a tad heavy handed with the chilies. The crab soup was explosive. I think my ears were ringing. Kevin and Hank had to slow down eating. It didn't faze Margie at all; she can even eat chillies neat. The next day we drove around the area to check out the roads. These little coastal towns were beach escapes for the Bangkok Thais. There were some lovely boutique hotels and cafes with decent coffee. We zoomed past Hua Hin, a dense surfers paradise with 5 star high rise hotels for the Thai beach goers. best-yellow-crab-curryWe had lunch at a roadside stop near the Khao Sam Roi Yot Natianal park at the thinnest neck of the isthmus. The restaurant was on the edge of a prawn farm. It had the loveliest yellow crab curry I've ever eaten. All the dishes there left everyone replete. The Keeree Waree hotel (Bang Saphan) was an amazing find by Hank. It was interesting with it’s outdoor garden shower. The whole place was tastefully done. The beach was lovely and clean, a huge expense of sand. They had some nice wine. At the next stop, we went to a night market and tried the food. Most of the food was seafood, and not the best quality. The fish cakes were nice but the rest forgettable. There was a wedding being held in the town square. It was huge. We went to a restaurant after that and ordered a few dishes. The one dish that sticks in my mind was the “fresh prawn salad”, I thought fresh was about the quality of the prawn, Kevin thought it meant it was from the sea and not farmed. It arrived; a mountain of shredded vegetables on a bed of raw prawns. We waited hopefully for the boiling water to arrive but no this was it. Hank took it to the kitchen and asked it to be cooked by miming. The next day we drove to Krabi. I thought we might find some good food here before we hit the tourist strip that was Ao Nang. Margie ordered a chicken tendon salad. When Margie read it she thought tenderloin. It came, with cartilage, ball and socket joints, all crunchy in a tasty batter. Margie found it disgusting. It’s interesting the only times we ordered something new and different on a local thai menu; on arrival it became clear why we had never seen it in Thai restaurants in Australia and never will. That afternoon we walked along Ao Nang beach. It’s a huge long stretch, very wide gently shoaling beach. We walked along the beach. Margie and I along the waterline and Hank and Kevin on the high tide line. Kevin and Hank were approached by a middle aged Muslim woman with a scarf. They were chatting for a while. Apparently the men were being appraised by a facilitator. As soon as they mentioned that their wives were just there, about a hundred meters away, she just walked away abruptly. That night we visited the night district of Ao Nang, looking for coffee and cake. Hank and Margie got a glimpse of the gorgeous Thai women with men older and uglier than their great grandfathers. The next day we headed into Phuket to drop off Margie and Hank at the airport. We had a little time so we detoured via Yacht Haven Marina. The super yachts in this marina need to be seen to be believed. We did our chores at the Boat Lagoon Chandleries. It was very lonely there; none of our friends were there. The next day we went to Phromthep Cape and said goodbye to Thailand.
Sep
16

Lok Kawi Wildlife Park (5 50.95N, 116 4.15E)

Posted by Mei on September 16, 2011 Self drive in Sabah has been an incredible challenge for us even with nokia maps, GPS and tourist maps. I went on the net and found the Lok Kawi Wildlife web site. The map there was very woeful and I found a google earth map on someone's post, it looked pretty much in the same area (I did try to cross check this time). But alas many kilometers later we turned up at the Monospiad Cultural Village. Fortunately I remembered Chrissy from Naga mention that the Lok Kawi Park was not too far from there. We stopped and asked and were told to go up a road with a fairly steep hill. How I admire Chrissy and Jack for riding up there with their bikes and not loosing hope. Tony of Full Flight who was driving was getting impatient as it slowly dawned on him I had no real clue where it was. To Kevin's amazement we found it. Lok Kawi was interesting; some of the animals were gorgeous to watch. The Ring Tailed Lemurs looked like colorful stuffed toys. The Proboscis monkeys were playing in the water and even swimming to keep cool. However the Orang Utan enclosure was sadly lacking in decent shade or stimulation, and was very disappointing to see these very intelligent creatures huddling under a small shade net. We enjoyed the show which had Tony pit his strength against a 4 year old Orang Utan. Both were given a brown coconut and were told to husk it and get out the kernel. A thin segment about 1/16 was taken out to give both a sporting chance. The Orang utan used hands feet and teeth and pulled it apart before Tony, who bashed it against a tree stump to weaken it and tore up to 80% off before the Orang Utan won the contest. Orang Utan tearing apart a coconut
Sep
09

Sipadan

Posted by Mei on September 9, 2011

Semporna

We went to Semporna by bus. It should have been conformable. Unfortunately the passenger across the aisle had a streaming cold. Divers cannot dive with a cold. Something to do with pressure equalization of the ears. We were trapped with this guy, hoping that if we caught a cold it would be a few days later. Then the dunny exploded. Or at least I think that's what happened as the odour of SH@# permeated the air conditioned bus. I asked Kevin if he could smell it. He said no, and looked at me in askance. I asked him to look around, there were people holding their noses looking pretty horrified.

Sipadan

We got to Semporna, It felt quite a rough and tumble town. We jumped on the dive boat to Sipadan. The boat had two 200HP motors pushing us along, the swell was about 1 m and the boat was flying. The trip was bone jarringly uncomfortable. There were four divers with one divemaster Jefri. That was great having a dive-master, especially with us novices. Kevin and I were quite undisciplined with our buoyancy. The first dive was a little stressful for me. For some reason there was resistance in my regulator when I was on the surface. Got a tad distressed trying to get enough air. I was ready to get out. The dive master suggested we descend. I held up my deflator and realized I had forgotten to inflate it whilst on the surface. Duh. As soon as we were underwater the regulator delivered the air easily. Then the slow descent except I couldn't descend, without swimming down; normally if you're properly weighted you only need to deflate and you sink like a rock. It was a struggle to keep to the dive-master's level. He had to pull me down with my fin. Once I got below 5m it seemed much easier (the buoyancy of my wet suit changes at different depths). With all this mucking around with the diving bits it was easy to miss the purpose of the dive to SEE Sipadan. Definitely should get more experienced with this diving gig so I don't worry about the peripherals.

Ascidians, Spidan, By Geoff Candy

Blue Tang, Sipadan, By Geoff Candy

We went to 20m. There isn't the huge variety of coral gardens compared to the surface. But there were many fish above us and it's strange seeing a turtle from below. We saw five turtles from a distance until we happened on a turtle with half it's shell, front flippers and head in this smallish ledge. It had just stopped not moving and err.. resting? It was all over beige in color.  We were so close we could touch it. We didn't though, although the turtle looked stuck and there was the temptation to pull it out and push it air wards. We saw about ten white tipped reef sharks. One rather large one about two meters long was lying at the bottom. The Italian couple we were diving with got the divemaster to take a photo. He then took one with us in it. He got us to creep forward to try get the money shot. Hmm is that the one with our heads in its mouth?

Longnose Hawkfish, Sipadan, By Geoff Candy

Sea Dragon, Sipadan, By Geoff Candy

We saw a school of barracuda swimming around in a tight circle. Maybe 300 fish, all about meter long. We were taken to another site with a big school of big eyed trevally. The divemaster showed us a little weedy sea dragon bout 50mm long. It was soo tiny we'd have missed it. A rockfish, well camouflaged. moray eels and lion fish. There were many varieties of fish I have never seen before. In short by the third dive we were in sensory overload. There appeared to be a lot of fish we had not seen before. All these beautiful pictures were taken by the Geoff Candy of the yacht Ketoro. Big thanks to Irene and Rolf and Sue, Geoff and Nicky Candy from Ketoro

The beige turtle, Spidan, By Geoff Candy

What are these fish called? Spidan, By Geoff Candy

Aug
31

Sandakan

Posted by Mei on August 31, 2011

Agnes Newton-Keith House

Terry and Suzanne had suggested we read the books by Agnes Keith.  “Land below the Wind” by Agnes Newton Keith describes the life in Sandakan before the war.  After reading them we definitely had to see her house.  This house has been restored by the Sabah Museum. It was an old colonial wooden house. It was very spacious with high ceilings. They certainly knew how to build for the heat. You could easily survive with ceiling fans. The property was surrounded by tall trees helping to keep the heat off the building. It was a lovely house. Within the house are photos and memorabilia of the former occupants. The President of the Sandakan City, and his wife invited the rally folk to his house. We had a slide show with a biologist describing the natural wonders. They are very aware they have a unique and special asset, in this biodiversity hotspot. The Sabah government is endeavouring to retain 55% of the remaining rainforest, to keep in trust for future generations. The party was great with the hosts singing decent karaoke. We couldn’t match them really.. singing a very flat Waltzing Matilda. It was a lovely night. We went to the Sandakan war memorial. The aussie govt spent a lot of money here producing the posters , documentary and upkeep of the place. But somehow it was not as moving as the Kundasang War Memorial.

Probiscos Monkey

Probiscos Profile

Probiscos Monkey

We visited the Lubuk Proboscis sanctuary. The sanctuary is in the midst of a palm oil plantation. It is a privately run tourist operation. If you want to see proboscis and silver leaf monkeys this is the place. They feed the Proboscis monkeys with salt free pancakes and cucumber and the silverleaf monkeys with long beans. I enquired why they didn’t feed them fruit and vegetables, the managers said the proboscis monkeys don’t like fruit and are vegetarian. If they feed them vegetables something they could get in the forest they simply wouldn’t come. Hence the pancakes.

Silverleaf Monkey baby

Silverleaf Monkey Hand

Macaque eating sugarcane

We visited the Rainforest discovery park. This was a truly interesting place run by the Sabah Parks and Wildlife. It had a very informative botanical gardens and trails through the primary rainforest. There were some seriously BIG trees. The canopy walk infrastructure was very solid and extensive. You never felt threatened in the least as it barely swayed. We hung about and actually spotted birds, colourful sunbirds and flying lizards. Tony and Pat from Full Flight had brought their mini binoculars and were great for spotting the little birds. The canopy and trails had information posters to help identify the birds. If we ever go back to Sandakan I really want to do the night walk to spot animals. The members of the Sandakan Yacht Club were really friendly and a lovely bunch of people. Terry and Suzanne left us from Sandakan. They had visited the Kinabatagan river. A river the other yachties were keen on entering. The shallow draft yachts (several multihulls and Rubicon Star) could enter from the northern entrance. Chris and Judy of Braveheart saw something that looked like a crocodile in the water, on further observation it turned out to be the top of an elephant’s head, and slowly the entire pygmy elephant was revealed as it walked out of the water.
Aug
31

Turtle Islands, and Pulau Langkayan

Posted by Mei on August 31, 2011 We sailed to Pulau Gaya just outside KK. It was pleasant pretty anchorage. We were doing a big jump that afternoon so we kept to the boat and didn’t bother with the dinghy.

Tigabu Family

We went to Pulau Tigabu and snorkeled around. This island has a maritime police presence, with pillbox and watchtower. The little village is very poor. There were a bunch of kids and their mother in one of the huts and we greeted them. I try very hard to get the intonation and greetings right. So much so they presume I speak Malay. WHERE was my dictionary??? We have begun to notice that very few villagers speak English. They invited us up and the mum got us some coke. The kids all understood some English, but refused to speak. But watched us grope around and massacre the Malay language. Their neighbour had a pet Macaque and she went for a swim with it. The monkey did the doggie paddle and also swam underwater.

Pulau Langkayan

We sailed to Pulau Langkayan. It is a very lovely resort island. It does cost a bit to land but it was worth it. Water was very clear and good snorkelling and a lot of places to do it. We went for a buffet dinner here and had a walk around the island. We were surprised to see some navy guys with a watch tower. As we sailed to the turtle islands Kevin, Suzanne and Terry saw some enormous turtles. There was one island with exceptionally clear water and we vowed to return and anchor there. We later found out that this island belonged to the Philippines.
Aug
20

Kota Kinabalu and the Kinabalu National Park

Posted by Mei on August 20, 2011 We had a few hectic days sailing to Kota Kinabalu from Miri. The rally welcome in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah was like the welcome in Kupang. Very nice and lavish, We were entertained by the Kandasan and Murut warriors. Kota Kinabalu is a big city with traffic jams (especially Monday). A real shock to the system. The Sutera marina is free for the rally days (but you must have insurance) otherwise it cost us about 90RM/day without electricity or water. The marina was lovely with 5 pools to choose from and gyms and saunas (if you really wanted one). The food at the marina was expensive, the city was cheaper. There is a shuttle for 3RM (return) to the city. The KK looks very buzzy. Terry, Suzanne, Kevin and I hired a car to have a look at the city and the Kinabalu National Park. We used the KK tourist map to drive to the Lok Kawi wild life park. It was no-where near the location on the map. Use the lok kawi park website for the map. It's supposed to be very nice according to those who found it. We drove out to the Orchid de Villa to see some orchids. If you're an orchid buff this is very good. I used google to locate the place and put it into my phone. It got us close; but without a road going down a ravine and up again it was hopeless. We backtracked and used the map provided by the Orchid de villa website and that was much better although the cartographer had no idea of scale or the fact we assumed a straight line meant a straight road. It cost 60RM per person (after complaining 80 RM was too much) for the tour with a guide that knew his stuff. It took about and hour and the half and we got a drink, snack and a cold towel. Apparently the orchids flower all year round although there are more during August. This place had the wild Sabah orchids and these were absolutely tiny. Apparently the lovely big orchids we usually see in the market are hybrids. This tour was amazing. Did you know that Vanilla was an orchid? Mt Kinabalu is in the Kinabalu national park. Kevin wanted to climb it but could not get anybody else to go with him. We visited the park in hope of seeing some birds, interesting plants and the rafflesia flower (huge flower, a meter across). We went for a walk through the botanical garden at the park and it was lovely, but didn't spot many birds at all. The park temperature was COLD, about 18 deg C, we wore wind proof jackets and Kevin wore a beanie. Terry and Suzanne barely felt the chill coming from one of the coldest Melbourne winters on record.

War memorial

Kundasang War Memorial

The most interesting place was the war memorial a few km past the park near a major intersection. Suzanne spotted the flags, and there it was. The place was fascinating and very moving. A Thai man spent a good portion of his life restoring it. There were gardens dedicated to the different nationalities involved in WWII that were on the allies side. The Sandakan to Ranau war marches instigated by the Japs were horrific. Over two thousand aussies and brits (only 6 survived) and 16% of the Sabah locals died directly or indirectly at the hands of the Japs. The descendants of the POWs left pictures and mementos of their loved ones in a very moving tribute. The futility of war roared through my head. To move on from such atrocities must have taken a lifetime. In the book by Agnes Newton Keith about the war “Three Came Home”; all the Japanese officers were stranded in Borneo after the surrender; in the end they either committed suicide or were hanged by the courts in Labuan.
Jul
14

Brunei

Posted by Mei on July 14, 2011 July 5-6, 2011. We rented a car to travel from Miri to Brunei. What a huge shock when we arrived at the border. We expected to have to buy a visa on the spot, but immigration accepted only Brunei or Singapore dollars; which we did not have. Fortunately placed were these guys who seemed to hang out there and changed the money for us at a rate that was not too outrageous. The Brunei dollar is on par with the Singapore dollar. The immigration ladies were very friendly and nice to us. They certainly made us feel welcomed.

Immigration Ladies

This is a big Shell Oil country too. We drove into BSB (Bandar Seri Bagawan). We had no maps and my GPS maps on my nokia phone did not have Brunei. But even if it had the call cost were so exorbitant (international roaming with DIGI), I couldn't used it. Instead we relied on the really good Brunei signage. A large scale google map and the lonely planet map of the city. Once we got into the city, no great feat, all city centres have the same look; we searched for a book shop. Nup! We bumped into Maria and Eric, a couple we met in Mulu. We all wanted to see the Sultan's palace and we offered to take them by car. Whilst figuring out how to get there with the tourist map they had, a tourist tout listening in to our conversation just gave me one. That was fortuitous. We drove a way round to get a view of the Istana but the walls were pretty damn high. We wondered onto an island that had a structure on it. We thought it was a restaurant; the sign had the word makam, which we thought meant food. We spoke to a guy throwing out some crab pots. Turned out that the structure was the mausoleum of the 16th sultan, we're up to 29 now. We went to the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque the biggest mosque in Brunei. It was awe inspiring.

Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque 1

We had to dress in a black gown and it made us feel like monks. Oddly they had no covering for woman's hair. We went inside and found the floors completely marbled. In the Prayer hall were specially made rugs, as most people were kneeling or kneeling with their foreheads on the ground. The alter area was very elaborate, and there appeared to be an area for someone to stand and preach. It was almost cold with the air conditioning, but must be wonderful when the hall is full. They had a completely separate prayer chamber for the women, complete with the white gowns they could borrow. Their alter area had television monitors, of the main male chamber, so they too could hear and watch the services. We were not allowed there during the prayer times but it appeared people went to pray whenever they had the time. We were surprised to see the crab fisherman there. He had completed his devotions and was off to pick up his crabs. That evening we had a lovely satay meal. We had parked our car next to the river. It was about 10pm when we saw a group of six men dressed in bright yellow plastic raincoats. They were using a high pressure water jet to clean the slime from the concrete steps that led down to the river. We got into our car fully expecting it to start. It did not. The group of yellow men came to our aid and for a while debated with Kevin how to fix the problem. They were all so helpful. Eventually we decided to jump start the car and one of them happen to have a four wheel drive and jumper leads. No worries. The next day we went to the Regalia museum. It contained all the gifts from foreign nations and local community groups to the sultan. What do you give a man who lacks for nothing? A truly tough call. Nice presents though. Didn't see anything from John Howard. Helen Clarke gave a handcrafted bowl. The best gifts were peeps from the Middle East and SE Asia. Norodom Sihanouk (King-Father of Cambodia) gave a pewter replica of Angkor Wat. Actually it was a nice way to preserve and display these rather unique gifts. The museum also housed the giant coronation sedan chair, the magnificent uniforms of the sedan chair bearers and guards. Today the sedan chair is on a platform with wheels and the bearers push instead of carry. Good thing too as it looked back-breaking heavy. We were very impressed by how well everything was being maintained. The Sultan’s 65th birthday on July 15th, may have something to do with this. The whole country seemed in a frenzy of spring clean. We visited the empire hotel. The main reception and eating areas were apparently part of the country beach house privately owned by Prince Jeffri.  When he fell into disfavour the house got turned into a hotel. I have never seen so many expensive cars in a car park. The marble inlay on the floor was exquisite.

Marble Inlay Floor

We visited the Kampong Ayer (water village). It was interesting to see wooden houses with galvanised roofs on concrete or metal piles, with a platform made from concrete bearers. There were ten schools, hospitals, clinics and an active fire department that patrolled all the time. Most of these services were on the water, some were on the bank of the river. All houses had water, electricity and phones; almost all of them had satellite TV. They were joined by walkways linking them together. The people in this community have lived on the water for 1000 years. The sultan lineage is directly traced to the community of water dwellers. The sultan’s lineage is 700 years old. We went to the Kampong Ayer gallery. There were sketches of the Kampong Ayer when the sultan used to live on the water. The roofs were magnificent thatched roofs. It looked several storeys high. It was really impressive unlike the shantytown on stilts today.

Kampong Ayer Mosque - It's 32 deg C

We decided to fuel up our rental in Brunei as the petrol costs $0.40 AUD/l. When we got to the Shell servo the manager ran up and told us firmly we could not fuel up because we had a Malaysian car. But we’re out we said, Kevin showed him the gauge. He reluctantly allowed us $5.00 worth enough to get to the special servo just before the border. When we got to the servo the workers there made us drive to the special world price bowser. There we paid 0.68  AUD/l. This was more expensive than the Malaysian price of 0.60 AUD/l. Oh well not really complaining. It’s tough eh!!!
Jul
03

Mulu National Park

Posted by Mei on July 3, 2011

Gunung Mulu National Park

We booked a tour to the Gunung Mulu National Park. Mainly because lonely planet said the cave sites were a world heritage site. I have been to caves before at Naracoorte (South Australia) and in Ha Long Bay (Vietnam). Both pretty amazing but.. if you’ve seen one stalactite and one stalagmite did I honestly need to see more? Deer cave was shown on David Attenborough's Planet Earth Series - Episode 4: Caves, and Kevin remembered it. I really wanted to check out the equatorial rain forest. Sarawak is loosing it’s forests so rapidly because the foresters are not practicing sustainable logging, i.e. if the forest grows at 12 5% per year and the loggers harvest 8% of the mature logs then the forest can still survive for generations. No indeed!@! They are clear felling the forest. Complete clearing of every blessed tree, for planks and woodchip. This is to prepare the land for palm oil plantations. The plantation guys and the government are grinning ear to ear because they get carbon credits on this crop too. As far as their avaricious minds work they are win-win all the way to the bank.

Palm Oil

Borneo is part of the Sundaland Biodiversity Hot Spot. Borneo in particular is in the heart of this biodiversity zone. Sundaland is only second to the Tropical Andes hotspot; the world’s most biodiverse area. What is interesting is that the areas that contain the highest quantity of biodiversity are the lowlands plains which the foresters and palm oil plantation owners salivate over. The mountainous area have less biodiversity but these are the areas chosen to be protected as national parks. Another horrible issue is that the indigenous people (Dayaks) don’t appear to have any legal right to the land that has been taken from them. Mulu has been established for about 30 years. The land mass is 544 sq km. It borders Brunei. There are only two ways there, by air or by river. The Deer cave is an enormous cavern. The deer were attracted to the cave’s salt lick constituted of batshit (guano) and water. There are 12 species of bats in the cave and the entire ceiling is black with bats hanging around. There is enough daylight to see this. The ground is thick with the guano. However the walkways were relatively clear and I was not shuffling in it. I was surprised and pleased to discover that batshit was not as stinky as dynamic lifter, I could cope. The interesting formations were well lit and the guides know quite a lot about how everything is formed, apparently every bump and curve can be scientifically explained. Unfortunately for us our guide was not informative. We did hear other guides talk knowledgably, and eavesdropped a bit.

Cockroaches on Guano

Deer Cave

The most amazing thing happened at about 5:30 pm (sunset at 6:30pm) the bats started to leave the cave as we walked out towards the entrance. The stream of bats resembled smoke leaving a cave. They would actually circle a couple of times always in formation and fly away (the circling allowed their eyes to grow accustomed to the light). The air was so thick and black with bats. The guides said there were three million bats and they took about an hour to leave the cave. These bats feed on insects. They fly in formation and once they descend into the forest they disperse. Each bat can fly about 100km and returns to the cave at dawn.

Deer Cave Bats 3

Deer Cave Bats 1

Deer Cave Bats 2

I wonder if the bats have some kind of air traffic control and what happens if they miss their slot. I noticed the flight path changes and is not too predictable from the cave entrance. Sometimes the flight path dips and weaves. Still it must be “easy as” for the hawks, “Oh No… bat again for dinner!!!” The bats share their home with swiftlets. The swiftlets stay in the cave at night and fly out at dawn. We didn’t really see them fly back in as they don’t do it en masse. The swiftlets are the little birds that build the nests for “birds nest soup”. The next day we went to the Clearwater cave complex (130 km of caves, imagine the dudes surveying it). Now that was interesting as we had to go there by sampan. The river was very shallow (low tide) at some spots and the guide in front had to pole us over the rocks. We wondered how long an outboard motor survived.

Trip to Clearwater

Trail to Clearwater

Canopy Walk

There was a walkway built against a cliff. All fascinating. Kevin and I with a guide from the park went on a canopy tour. We were between 25-35 meters high. The best time is dawn or dusk for the canopy walk. Our tour company scheduled 2pm. We saw a few butterflies and one bird. But on the other hand there were hardly any bugs. The bug time is animal feeding time. It was nice to take our time and look. I had expected the tropical rainforest to be incredibly dense. with barely any visible sky from the ground. But the rainforest in Dunk Island was denser then this forest. Turns out that because the base is limestone the trees are shallow rooted and can only last a 100 years in this area in Mulu.

Penan Nose flute player

Penan basket weaver

Penan Nomads
Jun
27

Kuala Terengganu to Miri

Posted by Mei on June 27, 2011 We got to Miri after sailing 650 nm from Kuala Terengganu. We sailed 75% of the way with the wind no closer than a reach. Most of the time the wind was SW. According to Captain Fin of the Miri marina the smart money was on those who sailed east as far as possible then sailed south for Miri, to maintain the wind. We saw a pod of 17 dolphins with speckles down the side. They swam on our bow wave like a cyclists taking turns in a pelaton. The journey took five days.